10 Awful Client Cliches That Make Every Designer Cringe

by on 13th September 2013 with 61 Comments

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This is the third part in our series all about making fun of design related clichés that drive us all crazy. We’ve already picked on designers plenty with 5 Former Design Trends That Aren’t Cool Anymore and 5 Cliché Logo Design Trends to Avoid, now it’s time to turn around and give some attention to all the crazy things that clients say to their designers.

We put out the word on Twitter and asked for some of the worst things that you hear again and again from clients. The following are some of our favorites.

Make It Pop

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“Make it pop” has to be the most cliché overused line in design history. I’m not sure who decided that this is the best way to request more emphasis on a given element, but somehow it made its way into the official client handbook.

I swear, some people are convinced that there is a big fat “POP” button in Photoshop just waiting to be pressed. “You mean you didn’t press the pop button? Back to your lab minion!”

One of the biggest problems with this phrase is how most clients want the “pop” to be executed: via a burst, crazy ugly colors or some stock photo that has zero relevance to the communication in question. If you absolutely must tell your designer that you want something to pop, at least consider letting him/her decide how that goal should be accomplished.

Let Your Creative Juices Flow

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Seriously, can you think of a more ridiculous thing to say to a designer? I submit that there isn’t one. What are these juices and why are they so… juicy? It’s as if we expect designers to begin secreting some strange, fruity liquid that upon application turns boring old Helvetica into something more exciting like Comic Sans. “Go go gadget creative juices!”

I’d even go a step further and say that discussing someone’s juices sounds more like sexual harassment than creative feedback. Say this a few times to your designer and the only thing that will be flowing is the copious amounts of alcohol he or she has to consume to forget that you ever uttered such an abomination.

Feel Free to Just Be Creative

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Designers love it when you tell them to be creative, seriously, do it every chance you get. While you’re at it, the next time you get in a cab, tell the driver to feel free to just… drive.

The assumption here is that you have to give a designer permission to do something creative. Isn’t that what you hired them for? If you neglected to provide this nugget of wisdom would the designer cease all creative juice secretion and provide you with a Word Document set in Times New Roman?

Take It To The Next Level

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Feedback like this is as much the fault of designers as it is clients. Too many designers become so emotionally connected to their work that they simply can’t handle criticism without feeling like they’re undergoing a personal attack. As a result, clients have had to resort to “nicer” ways to tell us that our work sucks. “This is great, but let’s take it to the next level.” Translation: “I don’t like it.”

“Take it to the next level” is an empty phrase to designers (plus, it sounds like you’re asking to move in). They’ve given you their best guess at what you want, now it’s time to say exactly what’s not working and why so you can avoid thirty rounds of guessing game artwork changes. Give open, honest and professional feedback that cuts to the heart of the issue. If your designer can’t take it, then it might be time for a new one.

This Project Will Get You Great Exposure

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There’s nothing better than a client trying to convince you to take a low or even nonexistent rate because the project will surely earn you some great exposure or provide an awesome portfolio piece. While you’re at it, the next time you go into a restaurant, ask the chef to make you some free food in exchange for you telling all three of your close friends that it was delicious.

There are in fact some projects that are worth it solely for the exposure they provide. The best part is though that those types of clients always have a nice big budget!

This Project Will Lead to Paid Work

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Once again, I beg you to go and try this with any other product or service. Perhaps I’ll walk into the Apple Store and ask for a free iPad with the guarantee that if I like it, I’ll actually purchase some Apple products in the future. Somehow I don’t think the folks at the Genius Bar will go for it.

For some reason designers exude some sort of “sucker” hormone that attracts penniless zombies looking for a free meal. The reality here is basically the same as the last time, if you don’t have any money, you can’t hire a professional. It’s simply a matter of respect. If you really stop and think about it you’ll no doubt realize that designers are real people trying to pay their mortgages and put food on the table for their families. Empty client promises don’t buy Happy Meals.

I’ll Send You a Fax

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Sorry McFly, I don’t know what time warp you just stepped out of but turn down the Walkman and look around. No one uses a fax machine anymore. In fact, if you’re working with a freelance designer, there’s a good chance that they don’t even have a working phone line in their house.

Email is fast, instant and free. If you need to send signed documents, use a scanner or your computer’s camera. If you refuse to purchase a scanner, then you’ll completely understand when all of the designers that you approach refuse to purchase a fax machine.

We Want It To Look Exactly Like This Website

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It’s amazing how poorly this knowledge is disseminated in the general public, but designers aren’t actually supposed to just rip off the work of others. It seems simple enough right? You only have to take the color scheme, layout, buttons and graphics from this website, we can put our own logo on it and it’ll be different!

As Curebit just found out after stealing the Highrise site from 37signals, this strategy doesn’t work out so well in the long run and can lead to some massive PR headaches.

Make The Logo Bigger

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This one is so popular that it has spurred countless Internet memes, from Make My Logo Bigger Cream to the Make the Logo Bigger Song.

I’m not going to tell you that there is never a case when your logo needs to be bigger, because such instances do exist, just know that if you request it, your snarky designer is likely to send you back one of the links above.

It Won’t Take Long

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For some reason, non-designers often imagine that they are qualified to make accurate time estimates for how long a design project will take. Experienced designers long ago learned to ignore any late night client phone calls because they inevitably lead to a request for a quick fix to a website or brochure. Five hours and nine phone calls later as the sun is rising the “quick fix” is finally wrapped up in time to start a new day of work.

Even worse than the quick changes to existing projects are the judgements received when a designer tells a potential client just how many hours of work to expect on a project. “It’s just a logo! You’re a professional, I don’t see why this should take you more than an hour.” Some clients are convinced that logos just pop out of Adobe Illustrator if you know the right keyboard shortcuts.

What Do Your Clients Say?

It’s always fun to gather around the metaphorical water cooler and jest about the lighter side of our profession. Join in the fun and leave a comment below with some of your client horror stories. Have you heard any of the phrases above lately? What other client clichés can you think of?

Comments & Discussion

61 Comments

Comments & Discussion

61 Comments

  1. TheAL says:

    Had a blast reading this. And, yes, I have faced many of these.

  2. Ckris Phoenix says:

    I made a HTML site for a female friend for $100, when finished she gave me the money, but she told me her brother wanted the site to be totally different plus flash elements.I asked her $150 to do it,she argued that i took advantage of her to take more money.
    We are no longer friends :)

  3. Great article… Photographers also face some of these issues…it wont take long and it’ll lead to paid work! If I had a penny….

  4. Nate says:

    Made my day :)
    I’d like to make an amendment or complement for one of them, have had this type of client a few too many times. “We Want It To Look Exactly Like This Website” -”but better”

  5. Jon says:

    How about “we really like the old design, but could you just ‘freshen it up’ a bit?”. Um – sure. Let me bust out some design Febreeze on this old thing.

  6. Robin Cannon says:

    Heh, yes, I’ve experienced all of these.

    The first couple I don’t mind too much. “Make it pop” and “Let your creative juices flow” are to some extent a demonstration that the client wants something but doesn’t necessarily have the language or knowledge to effectively explain what they want. At that point it’s as much the designer’s responsibility to help the client define their needs in more detail.

    Anything that tries to undercut a designer’s pricing or justify spec work is just annoying. It’s either taking advantage of a designer who’s just getting started and perhaps *does* need exposure (albeit that will probably be reflected in their pricing anyway), or it’s borderline insulting to someone who’s worked hard to already develop a strong portfolio of work.

  7. Liesbeth says:

    Nice round up. Sounds familiar :)

    ‘Make it pop’, ‘It won’t take long’ and ‘Feel free to be creative’ are my top 3.

    I’ve also been asked once to ‘make it more alive’. Still not sure how to implement that …

  8. Stéphanie says:

    Sounds familiar… A little bit too familiar unfortunately.

    I had the “This Project Will Lead to Paid Work” x3 : ” We need you to create three iOs apps, if we are satisfied with the second, we will pay you for the third one”. Hum, thx but no thx ?
    I also had a friend who asked me for a logo ” We will of course pay you don’t worry you’ll get 15 € (about 10$) for the logo”. I simply answered that my hour rate was 40€/hour, so I’ll spend 15min on his logo. Strangely he did not ask anymore ^^

  9. Sara says:

    I like how not only is “great for a college student” a key phrase for “I’m not going to pay squat,” but in my city it’s also people looking for students from a specific school. Mind you, I’ve seen some portfolios from those students, and their school might be great, but the portfolios… not so much. But if you’re smart enough to get in, you’ll magically be great at everything, right?

    My new favorite thing to hate, though, is “we already picked out/bought/lifted the template.” Why don’t you wait until you consult with the person who will be working off a template before buying one?! They think they can get lower rates by starting out this way, but in the end working with the garbage code is at least as much work as just starting out from scratch! I laugh at every one of those projects and move on.

    There’s money to be made if you’re not a sucker. Just keep remembering that.

  10. KOTN says:

    ROTF laughing my creative juices off!
    I know that at the heart of this article is jest; our clients are not clued up. We have to educate them, non?

  11. Sheena says:

    So true…that made me laugh – thanks :)

  12. mtk says:

    I’d add two more to this list:

    “We want something hip/edgy” (which usually means they want something entirely average)

    After you’ve worked 40 hours on your design and finally delivered it: “It’s a good start” (meaning they hate everything about it)

  13. egiova says:

    You made me laugh, and it’s a good thing. Out loud.
    It won’t take long is the best, in my opinión. It’s an excellent post/therapy (or reverse, who knows?).
    (I’m still laughing…)

  14. nonline says:

    Did talk to my boss? Sounds familiar…

  15. mario says:

    i worked with one client for over a year on a same reoccuring project that needed some tweaking every now and then. and it was fine. then came entirely new project. these are the clients words on a briefing meeting: “here, outdo yourself!” thats all!!! :))))

  16. Paul says:

    HAHA I had someone ask me to fax something to them the other day. I’ve never used a fax machine in my life and plan to keep it that way.

  17. Amber says:

    Said about a text graphic:

    “Make it more B2B.”

    It was in Lucida.

  18. jamEs says:

    This one is web designer specific, but the term “above the fold” drives me crazy.

  19. Neel Singh says:

    “I’ll sit with you and we’ll create the design together.”

    I made this rookie mistake when i first started out and I learned very quickly to never to do it again. It goes in circles. For hours. You’ll go bald from pulling your own hair out.

    It’s important to remember that you’re the designer, not the client.

  20. Joshua Johnson says:

    Thanks for all the kind words guys. Keep the stories coming, I’m loving them!

  21. Wayne says:

    If I had £1 for evertime I heard one of those, I wouldn’t be in this job, I’d be a millionaire!

  22. carl says:

    WOW, I’m laughing out loud. Sooo true…great post.

  23. carl says:

    Amber…”Make it more B2B” love it.

  24. Javier says:

    Hear these all the time… I laughed out loud :)

  25. Marco says:

    Oh man, or.. “I need something simple”….

  26. Igor says:

    Great post, 100% true in most cases :)

  27. Krystal says:

    Hilarious!! I have dealt with some annoying clients… I have had a client tell me WHAT font, where to place it, and given me pixelated images to use as a background. I don’t understand. Why don’t I just give you a copy of Photoshop and you can save money and my time!

  28. Jordan says:

    Shortly after the Apple CEO passed away, I saw a significant rise in the use of Steve Jobs quotes as cliches.

    The worst came when I had a potential customer say, “We are really looking for someone who will be Steve Jobbing it for us.”

    Needless to say we passed.

  29. Arky says:

    Was “make it pop” popularised by a reality show like Top Design or Project Runway? It feels like a line people got from TV that makes them feel like they’re using insider lingo and know the secret handshake. .

  30. Elke Hinze says:

    I too have experienced some of these and they made me laugh. Glad to know it’s not just me experiencing them.

    I dealt with a client in the “This will lead to paid work realm”. I was creating a site for her, that she paid for, but she only wanted to spend about $400. At the time, my hourly rate was $50, so I told her it would be all static with a basic contact form.

    She kept wanted to add things a la carte, which would have been fine for most people, but she was using it as a way to get more work for nothing.

    I eventually parted ways with her and suggested she go find a college student looking to boost their portfolio because she was so difficult to work with.

    The “It won’t take long” line always gets me too. In many circumstances I have figured out shortcuts to get my work done faster with the same results. Clients aren’t always paying us for our time, but our knowledge.

    With that said, never work in front of your client or tell them “this will be easy”, they don’t need to know your secrets!

  31. Stéphanie says:

    Ho, I almost forget, one that I tend to here a lot, about UI design and mobile app design “let’s make it sexy” or “we could try to give it a sexier look and feel”. Yeah we’re dealing with UI buttons, drop downs here. After a while, I understood that anything that looked like iOs ui was what the person called “sexy”. Ho yeah baby let’s make sexy buttons :)

  32. Ben says:

    “We want you to think outside the box on this design”

  33. James says:

    I usually get at least two of these a week.

    The worst one for me is the “quick change” scenario. To which my response is usually something along the lines of “Yeah, sure, it takes you five seconds to say it, but…”.

    Aside from that, I often deal with people who accept a quote, then half-way through the project like to move the goalposts and add a “little box that does this” here, and little “thing that does this” there. Explaining that in effect, time is money, seems to give them the hump – however, I know plenty of designers that’ll just do the work and send them an extra invoice at the end.

    Working out how to deal with some of these people would be great…

  34. Graham says:

    The response that the “this will lead to paid work” deserves is “no, THIS is the paid work that my previous freebies have led to. I’m a professional. I do it for money. Amateurs do it for nothing”.

  35. Katie says:

    I am constantly getting the “Make it look like this site” request from my clients. What’s worse is when they tell me to “make it look just like that site” except they don’t want this, or that, or something else. “So, what is it that you like?” “Well, we really like how the bottom has social media links.”

    Great article. :)

  36. Kandie says:

    Great read, awesome comments… As i’m toggling between tabs of this site and of – http://clientsfromhell.net/

  37. SlowX says:

    I especially like the “repeat the headline in the graphic” cliche.
    ;)

  38. I’ve heard all of them except for the Fax machine one lmao, I’ve honestly been trying to figure out WDH “Pop” or “Edgy” means for the last 5 years or so now

  39. You missed out – ‘Can you just’ – its a phrase often used by clients to allay the fact that the ‘just’ will probably take you a few hours and does not warrant a charge because its only a ‘small’ change – Pfft…I now charge like solicitors – in 6 minute increments – why not? I am a professional after all……

  40. You missed most asked thing “Can you make it Web 2.0?”

  41. Chris Best says:

    This pretty much sums up my working life. There’s plenty more of these at Clients From Hell : http://clientsfromhell.net/

  42. Jason Turner says:

    The one that I can’t bear (with any interior design that has a hint of colour or any thing a little bit different): “OK, I like it but are you sure it won’t date?” Like design comes with a use-by date.

  43. Joem says:

    Got one…”do you do PowerPoint?”

  44. Tom Hermans says:

    If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny..

    The ones that are the most infuriating are the ones where they try to belittle you like “that can’t be hard or take much time” or “this is a good idea, can’t believe I have to come up with these..”

    As a reaction, I just finish the job, nothing extra, and treat intelligent clients like they’re gods sent from heaven.

  45. JAS says:

    I’ve got one more:
    “Make it work.”

  46. Brett says:

    Seems clients the samre world over. have same issues in retail/interior design…

  47. Simon says:

    Heard them all –

  48. Alice says:

    Here’s another one I’ve come across:

    “Don’t you have a better Chinese font?”

    No, I’m intentionally setting you up with the ugliest font I can find on my Macbook Pro.

  49. OmaR says:

    oohh i need something creative, something say (WOW), it’s worth work, this idea might a award…………….. client need BC

  50. James says:

    “It needs to be more edgy”

  51. egiova says:

    I just lived point ten. Twice in a week. No phone calls admitted, but 21 e-mails in a day.
    It droves me mad.

  52. James says:

    Haha, I have heard all of these. Ones i like is:
    “I like it but can you give it a bit more Pezaz?”. Or, ” can you make it ‘really in your face’?”. Sometimes I feel like banging my head on my Mac keyboard!

  53. Michael says:

    This article resonates so much with me as a self employed designer.

    How often I have come up against the client who wants a full content management system with fully integrated SEO and that killer feature for under a £1k. “But you work from home” really guts me…

    I will also never forget the one who got me to include a number of features outside the project brief and when invoiced the extra cost told me just to remove them as if I could reverse time – mind you I would have liked to reverse time and not take up the client ;)

  54. Joe Cushing says:

    I’m not a designer nor do I hire them but let me help you out a bit.

    Make it Pop: The person wants a design that grabs somebody’s eye and makes it look that way. If they say make it pop, that’s what they are hiring you for. Anyone can make a logo, put the name of a product on a package, or make a sign, but they are paying a designer for something better than they can do themselves.

    Edgy: Having a bold, provocative, or unconventional quality. That one was in the dictionary for the person who said they didn’t know what it meant for 5 years. Like make it pop, they are letting you know, they want work that is of higher quality than they can do themselves. They want something to catch the eye–to grab a persons attention when people see literally millions of designs a day. They want yours to stand out but not be freakish. It’s up to you to know what edgy is right now. That is your job–to know design trends and to know the difference between retro, edgy, and conservative in whatever it is you are designing.

    “I like it but can you give it a bit more Pezaz?”. Or, ” can you make it ‘really in your face’?”. Sometimes I feel like banging my head on my Mac keyboard!”——what this person is saying is they see potential in your design but you have not given them something that feels good. They are giving you an opportunity to try again.

    If somebody asks for the logo to be bigger, just make it bigger.

    Creative Juices: it means they don’t know what they want and they hope you will come up with something cool for them. Why cringe–just give them what they want.

    Next level: Make some changes and see if I like it better. This one goes in with pop and edgy.

    Just be Creative: see creative juices.

    Fax: sure it’s an old technology but if this is how you customer wants to communicate, it’s how you communicate. Most faxes go to servers now anyway and no you don’t have to own a fax machine to receive faxes.

    Look exactly like this web site: What they are saying is that they like that web site and they don’t want you to copy it but give their web site a similar look with the same level of QUALITY AND APPEAL as that web site.

    I think you people are a bunch of whiners who have no sense of costumer service. This is a whiny article written for a whiny group of readers. I get being irritated by customers who don’t want to pay you but just let them know up front how you bill for a project and stick to it. If they are too pushy for free stuff, then get out of there. With that said, sometimes they are letting you know that what you are about to do is a small change and won’t require a lot of time and they don’t expect a big bill for something small. Like don’t bill me $300 to change fonts in a graphic.

  55. TN Pas Cher says:

    front how you bill for a project and stick to it. If they are too pushy for free stuff,

  56. Smartarse says:

    Joe Cushing:
    I’m not sure what sort of design you think folks are talking about around here, what with your comment about costumer (sic) service…

  57. Edd Biel says:

    This article has made my day Josh, really :)

    I’ve been working on a lot of client work recently, and one client asked me to “make it more jazzy” and of course make his logo significantly better while reducing white space.

    Needless to say i advised him not to, and then came the old adage of “Well im paying you all this money to do something, i want it done my way” so i changed it, and now it looks significantly less impressive than it did.

    ^ But that’s client work for you sometimes, however this whole post has made me laugh so much seeing as its so true :D

    Nice post Josh :)

  58. Sue Brettell says:

    Love this post! I’m more familiar with the variant of “It won’t take long”, “Can you just ….”

    Just is a sort of shorthand for “this is nothing, it won’t take a minute” …yeah in your dreams. “Just” jobs usually end up being big zappers of energy and time and invariably don’t pay well, if at all, because the “just-ifier” thinks it’s a small job. Avoid any job described as “just ….”. It won’t be, in any sense of the word!

  59. A says:

    Recently I was told to make this shelf I was designing to display cosmetics to “tell a story” ..that was a bit difficult to interpret…

    Also, I love getting the “think outside the box” projects. It’s always funny at the end of the project to look back at the brief as the chosen final design in some cases is quite literally: a box.

  60. Fredee says:

    I have heard all of these MANY times. “Make it POP” and “Great Exposure” are the ones I hear the most though. Very funny post!

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